Guyana is not unique in its system of adversarial politics. In fact, Guyana shares with most democratic countries an elected legislature to which competing parties seek membership. The extent of that membership depends on the votes received by political parties in elections. Each political party at these elections seek to persuade the electorate that it is the best equipped to lead the country. Only one party or a group which coalesces before or after the elections, or in the case of presidential elections, one candidate, emerges successful and forms the government. The unsuccessful party
becomes the opposition or minority. During the term of office of the government the opposition criticizes the policies and offers alternatives in preparation for the next elections when it will again try to prove that the government has failed. It may or may not succeed.
Adversarial politics is part of the democratic process and no change in this system is likely anytime soon. But unless there is a broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the political system, its rules and its outcomes dissention, which disrupts the benefits or advantages of the adversarial system, emerges. Even if the legitimacy of the political system is accepted, the intensity of the adversity can be such as to affect the development process. The recent struggle over the reform of the health insurance system in the United States is a case in point. Even though the system was crying out for reform, opposition to rational proposals was so intense that the legislation had to be substantially modified; and even that did not get Republican support. In Guyana the historic Amerindian Act which vastly expanded the rights of the Amerindian people, received similar treatment on a lesser scale. However, the majority of the Government in the National Assembly saw it through after intense debate.
Guyana is at a stage where it is ready for a social contract by which the major sections of the society, including the political opposition, can agree on broad national goals, while maintaining their freedom to criticize individual policy initiatives for any reason. Agreement on national goals, whether expressly or impliedly, could provide the basis for a social contract. The divisiveness seen in relation to individual policies is likely to disappear.
Returning to the United States again, Barack Obama said in his book “The Audacity of Hope:” “The last time we faced an economic transformation as disruptive as the one we face today, FDR led the nation to a new social compact – a bargain between government, business, and workers that resulted in widespread prosperity and economic security for more than fifty years.”
Guyana today faces many challenges. In a rapidly changing world, we need to charter an innovative economic course that attracts broad support. We need to agree on the distribution of resources through a system that is accepted by all as ensuring equity. We have to establish sufficiently effective mechanisms to facilitate such a level of transparency that all stakeholders will be satisfied. Guyana has other issues such as ethnic insecurity which drives accusations of discrimination. Even if increasing inclusivity becomes a reality, it would be still necessary to implement such additional institutional measures as are agreed to ensure that all allegations are addressed.
The social contract for Guyana does not necessarily require a formal agreement between stakeholders. The social compact referred to by Barack Obama did not consist of a formal agreement but was based on a national consensus. The Government has the responsibility to ensure that all Guyana subscribes to a basic set of goals, buttressed by the necessary laws, regulations and agreements which ensure that policies are informed by the goals and are directed towards their achievement. If the Government can get an agreement, all the better. But developments in the recent past and the nature of adversarial politics suggest that such would be a difficult proposition.
A good place to start is the National Development Strategy. A motion in the National Assembly to revise the NDS and develop it into a document which would enshrine national goals did not attract majority support. It is unlikely at this stage, with so much on the national agenda to be achieved in such a short time, that an engagement relating to the NDS would be feasible. The new Government ought to retrieve this document, which already has broad national support, from its current resting place and again place it on the agenda. It could be the initiative which would trigger a national debate on the creation of national goals which are already enscapulated in the NDS and merely needs revision. A positive consideration by the next National Assembly of the idea to establish a NDS Secretariat which would promote its goals in economic, social and political policies would be a great victory for inclusiveness and political stability in Guyana.